The separation of the three main branches of government—the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary—is a fundamental principle of our constitutional order. They are termed as “coequal,” in that each is not meant to supersede the others but to provide checks and balances in the running of government. Congress holds the power to appropriate the budget for specific departments and programs that the executive approves and implements, while the judiciary, when called upon, is the final arbiter of legal questions concerning the laws created by Congress.
There is a reason these restrictions have been put in place. It is to ensure that our government remains free from the hegemonic control of any single individual. This derives particularly from hard lessons learned during the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship, when then President Ferdinand Marcos dissolved Congress and installed a more compliant National Assembly that had to share its powers to legislate with the president himself. The judiciary, the weakest of the three coequal branches of government because of limitations placed on the exercise of judicial review, was forced to sit idly by as the dictator created law after law to shore up his own position, greed, and ambition with the help of a rubber-stamp legislature, leading to widespread human rights abuses, plunder, and, in the wake of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983, the most dismal economic recession the country had seen since World War II.
It is disturbing then to see the trend lately of the blurring of lines between the three branches, as if history is repeating itself. We see this, for example, in an elected senator playing the President’s man Friday every time the President deigns to show up for work once a week, sitting dutifully at the right hand of the “Father” for no better reason than to be present and be the chief executive’s shadow. We see this in supposedly esteemed and honorable members of Congress falling over themselves to act on the rambling threats of the President against his many perceived enemies. Most recently, there was the unabashed intervention of the President in the dispute between two squabbling children for the speakership of the House of Representatives.
We have always had lopsided majorities in both the Senate and the House. We see the familiar rigodon after every election, where politicians of varying degrees of integrity flock to the winning party to ensure their continued supply of political capital and guaranteed access to discretionary funds. This behavior is at the root of the country’s culture of patronage politics, where our elected officials consciously owe their allegiance to their political benefactors rather than to the institutions, and by extension the people, they are sworn to serve. The system then ceases to be a representative government, in that it no longer serves to protect the interests of the governed, but instead becomes subject to the whims and caprices of a single individual holding sway over the people’s so-called representatives. And if these leaders no longer speak for us, why do we let them stay? What purpose do they serve?
This unwelcome, dangerous development ought to be rejected by the people. There is nothing beneficial to be gained for democracy and republican values in the creation of a pliant supermajority under the thumb of a strongman President. Even as we speak, we see the voices of dissent being silenced in both houses of Congress and across the land. Without vigilant dissent, there can be no movement forward, only more of the exclusive fawning and pleasuring we see members of the ruling order give each other.
Ryan Robert Flores is a product development manager at a design firm in Manila that serves clients both here and abroad.
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